"The highest courage is to dare to be yourself in the face of adversity. Choosing right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity…these are the choices that measure your life. Travel the path of integrity without looking back, for there is never a wrong time to do the right thing." - Author unknown
(Gospel text: Mk 6:17-29)
Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison
on account of Herodias,
the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.
John had said to Herod,
"It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."
Herodias harbored a grudge against him
and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.
Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man,
and kept him in custody.
When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed,
yet he liked to listen to him.
She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday,
gave a banquet for his courtiers,
his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee.
Herodias' own daughter came in
and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests.
The king said to the girl,
"Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you."
He even swore many things to her,
"I will grant you whatever you ask of me,
even to half of my kingdom."
She went out and said to her mother,
"What shall I ask for?"
She replied, "The head of John the Baptist."
The girl hurried back to the king's presence and made her request,
"I want you to give me at once
on a platter the head of John the Baptist."
The king was deeply distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests
he did not wish to break his word to her.
So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders
to bring back his head.
He went off and beheaded him in the prison.
He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl.
The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it,
they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Courage and cowardice.
Today’s Gospel features these two opposites. John the Baptist, a man of incredible courage; Herod and his wife, Herodias, people of unspeakable cowardice.
When Herod had John arrested and brought to prison, we don’t know if he physically resisted, but we do know he spoke up. “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife,” he said to Herod. He positively stood for the truth of God’s law, holding the king accountable for his prior divorce and remarriage. Herod cowered in the face of that truth, yet was intrigued by it, deciding to lock John up and talk to him on his own terms so as not to be reminded of the truth day after day. Perhaps we’ve all attempted to lock away the truth of God’s law at some point in our own lives, preferring not to deal with it or to listen only our own terms rather than confront our need to change.
Herod’s wife, Herodias, reacted differently toward John, but also as many of us do when people call us out, she “harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.”
Have you ever felt that way when someone spoke up against you?
When someone or something called your life choices, your words, or your ideologies into question, implying they weren’t always in line with God’s truth? I know I have. I just want to spit back in their face that they’re wrong; I don’t need to change; they’re the close-minded one. But maybe…just maybe…they’re not.
Look at John for a second. He seems a bit of a passive character in this narrative. But it’s his words, his boldness for God’s law of truth that fuels the story. He clearly knows what is right, and even in the face of death, he will not step down. We are called to a courage like this. A courage to step out of our comfort zones and confront the lies we buy into each day in our own lives. A courage to hold those around us accountable to the truth of God’s love and precepts. A courage that doesn’t count costs.
Today we honor the martyrdom of John the Baptist. May we live courageously like him, speaking and standing for the truth in all we do.
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